Catalogue of the Italian Paintings of the XVII Century at the Hermitage Museum
Project location: RUSSIAN FEDERATION, St. Petersburg
Project start date: October 2008 - Project end date: December 2009
Project number: 2008-09
Beneficiary: FONDAZIONE ERMITAGE ITALIA
Phase I: November 2008 – January 2009
In the first three months of the project, the research team tried to establish the exact number of the paintings which would form the object of the scientific catalogue. After a careful revision of the works at the time in the Museum, it was clear that they were about 320; only a minor part (more or less 50) were displayed.
A useful list with attributions and history of each painting in the Russian collection was already available at the Museum. Anyway, this first survey was in Russian, and needed to be translated to be fully used by the research unit. A little part of the entries were translated in the first three months, to allow the research unit to consult the part concerning the Bolognese School and the Caravaggesque paintings.
The research team tried to collect all the photographs and entries of these two groups of paintings in order to start its work of revising attributions, chronology, and to check both ancient Italian sources and recent bibliography.
On the basis of the material they had, they tried to distinguish between copies and late versions of known compositions; for the Caravaggesque paintings they were trying to classify the Italian followers of Caravaggio and decide on the inclusion of a number of anonymous painters.
Once acquired a complete photographic survey (so far they only had a digital one; a photographic campaign for publication was still on its way) they will start the revision of the nucleus concerning the Neapolitan school.
Among the most important works of the Bolognese School, they took into consideration the famous Self portrait by Annibale Carracci coming from the Crozat collection, and the Rest during the flight into Egypt, a composition at the beginning of the classical tradition of a landscape with religious scene. Another important artist of the Emilian School, Giovanni Lanfranco, is very well represented by a beautiful Announciation, painted during 1615-1616, when the artist, settled in Rome, adopted a sophisticated style working on the models of the master of the Bolognese school, Annibale Carracci.
The painting belonged to the collection of Cardinal Silvio Valenti Gonzaga (1690-1753) and appears in the painting called “the Gallery” by Giovanni Paolo Pannini (1749, Hartford, Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Arts), a truthful portrait of the Gonzaga collection in the middle of XVIII century.
The Assumption of the Virgin by Guercino, now one the Seicento masterpieces in the Hermitage Museum, was painted in 1623, at the end of the Roman sojourn of the artist, who was in Rome during the pontificate of pope Gregory XV (1621-1623). The work entered the Russian collection in the XIX century, when the Italian owners, the Tanari family, sold it to the Hermitage.
A very large canvas, the Assumption is still conceived by Guercino in the fresh manner of his youth, even if the magnificent composition is already influenced, as Denis Mahon put it, by the classical ideas which strongly influenced the artist in Rome.
The large scale of the painting and of the figures show the experience of the giant canvas with the Entombment of S. Petronilla, now at the Pinacoteca Capitolina; an interesting copy of the famous painting is in the Hermitage Museum, as we could clarify working for our catalogue.
Another masterpiece of the Emilian painter is the Martyrdom of St. Catherine (1654), commissioned from him by the city of Cento, his birthplace, to be given to the cardinal Alderano Cybo, the papal Legate in Ferrara. This painting could be dated to the maturity of the artist; the composition is balanced and the full-length figures stand in a solemn attitude which shows the classicized style of the last decades of Guercino’s activity.
The Hermitage hold a series of paintings by Guido Reni, almost of all to be dated to the maturity of the artist. For instance St Joseph and the infant Jesus could be dated between 1630 and 1640, and probably a similar chronology could be possible for the Assumption of the Virgin and for the delicate Virgin sewing with young girls. A certain number of late versions of Reni’s famous compositions are to be found in the Museum collections, testifying to the great success the artist all over the European courts in the XVIII and XIX centuries.
Phase II: February – June 2009
In the second term of activity, from February to June 2009, the photo campaign was completed and a great part of the translations from Russian to Italian carried out.
In particular, Prof. Cappelletti and Dr. Ghelfi were working at the bibliographical revision of the schemes and were trying to verify the attribution and the history of each painting. They worked in the specialized libraries of Florence, Rome and London.
Prof. Cappelletti visited, with the Russian colleagues, the deposits of the Hermitage, and had the very important opportunity to inspect controversial paintings and to verify the attributions of such crucial works as the Mary Magdalene (a copy after Caravaggio), St. John the Baptist (attributed to Nicolas Regnier), Venus, Mars and Cupid, attributed to Guercino and workshop.
The research team divided the three hundreds works which are the object of their research into the Italian regional schools of painting.
They concluded the study of the Emilian paintings and their provenance; and focussed on the story of the Caravaggesque paintings studied in the first part of the project.
They were able to add some important information on the Baptism by Francesco Albani, a huge painting with a long story in Russia.
In 1800, in fact, the famous architect Giacomo Quarenghi, working for the Russian court, requested the painting for the church of S. Giovanni in Gerusalemme, at the celebration of the first Mass; all the documentation is in the Hermitage Archive.
At the same time they were able to elucidate the critical story of the St. Charles by Orazio Borgianni and of the Ecce homo by Battistello Caracciolo.
In the Golitsynskij Museum the first painting was considered a work by Annibale Carracci, and after it was ascribed to Michele Desubleo. The shift of the attributions is very interesting for the history of taste; Borgianni is one of the first followers of Caravaggio, but this school was not in favour until the half of the XX century and the Baroque painters were not well known.
The masterpiece by Battistello was studied deeply during the work for the catalogue. It has been considered for a long period a work by Caravaggio, but the studies on Battistello,one of the most important followers of Caravaggio in Naples allowed the research team to ascribe this powerful painting the Neapolitan artist.
Ščerbačeva already attributed the painting to Caracciolo (Cat. 1958; Ščerbačeva 1967) on the basis of the similarity to the paintings Saint Peter and the Angel (Pio Monte della Misericordia, Napoli) e The Baptism of Christ(Museo della Chiesa dei Gerolamini, Napoli).
Finally, the team started to work on the Genoese paintings at the Hermitage Museum, which include masterpieces by Giovan Benedetto Castiglione, Bernardo Strozzi, Valerio Castello.
Phase III: May- August 2009
The translation of all the texts from Russian to Italian and their revision was completed and the team tried to improve the precious work done at the Hermitage Museum in the previous years with new research on the provenance and history of the paintings and a convenient bibliography.
In particular, Prof. Cappelletti and Dr. Ghelfi worked at the bibliographical revision of all the entries trying to verify the attribution of each painting, working with the scholars from Russia.
It was very important to work together with Russian colleagues, who had, sometimes for the first time, the occasion of visiting European libraries and universities. These cultural exchanges are very important for young scholars too. The students of the University of Ferrara and the general public too had the very special opportunity to know about the topic and the details of the research on the Italian Paintings of XVII century at the Ermitage, through seminars and papers, given informally at the palazzina Giglioli. The history of these paintings is sometimes illuminating to understand the history of the Italian cultural heritage and the history of taste for art and decoration in modern Europe.
This term has been devoted in particular to the study of the Tuscan paintings. This was very difficult at the beginning, as some of these authors, like Francesco Furini, Ludovico Cardi called Cigoli, Simone Pignoni, have been rediscovered only in the last years; so, the work was very challenging in trying to clarify attributions and chronology of the paintings. In fact, while we are used to think that Florence has been the centre of the art development in XVth and XVIth centuries, during the Renaissance, the team was forced to reconsider Florentine painting in the age of Baroque looking at the extraordinary quality of the paintings by Francesco Furini and his contemporaries.
Francesco Furini was so appreciated at his time for the sophisticated treatment of mythological subjects (the Andromeda at the Hermitage is one of his masterpieces) and for the hyper-elegant use of shadows of beautiful colours, such as the “azzurro oltremare”, a sort of deep blue, which is a characteristic of his sensuous paintings.
The team also worked at the revision of the section on Neapolitan school, with the study of the paintings of Massimo Stanzione, Aniello Falcone, Luca Giordano and Salvator Rosa.